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Project 3 ‘What matters is to look’

Watch the Henri Cartier-Bresson documentary ‘L’amour de court’ (‘Just plain love’, 2001) available in five parts onYouTube: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL707C8F898605E0BF

‘L’amour tout court’ is also available on Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/106009378 (accessed 26/09/2016).

Write a personal response to the film in the contextual section of your learning log, taking care to reference properly any quotations you use (300–500 words).


I think that it’s fair to say that the phrase ‘the Decisive Moment’ has been used over and over again or perhaps misused. After all, the title of the book was in French, Images a la Sauvette, translated may be better read as images on the sly. Cartier-Bresson was convinced that given the right set of parameters; all the right ingredients of geometry, framing, proportion and rhythm come together in perfect balance to create the perfect photograph. The paramount and key point he makes is observation. He questions do we really look before we press the shutter? Do we indeed? In part four Cartier-Bresson is asked, “Can one learn to look?” He replied, “Can one learn to have sex?” (‘Just plain love’, 2001)

It is a basic instinct humans are programmed genetically to have sex, therefore, we look at each other intimately. We pick up on facial clues, body language and gestures when we fall in love. We must then look but do we know or even realise it?

Photography is in the most part instinctive and intuitive without it we are lost and just resort to taking pretty pictures that have no real value or meaning. I think we are all guilty of setting the camera to take hundreds of shots in a matter of seconds and hope that we have that winning image. The truth is we’ve probably missed it between the split seconds of each exposure. Is it better to take one good image than a hundred?

In that one perfect image, which encapsulates the decisive moment there needs to be an exchange of views about a photograph; although editing adding contrast and dynamic range seems permissible to create the final image. Cartier-Bresson took a break from the pressure of producing good photography and took up drawing; this gave pleasure and meaning when he returned to his photography. He owned a Lecia with the shiny parts painted black to enable it to be discreet and an extension of himself. Cartier-Bresson sums up how he is that extension in the boy performing a handstand. What he could not do was stop as none of us can is the aging process. “I am the young man who’s done all the things that took risks, knowing I could not do these things as I grew older.” (‘Just plain love’, 2001) So, Bresson participates in the image almost as if he is the subject despite being an old man.

In Africa he recorded his life, his residence but it was not about recording his life. He was living in the moment; as we do with today’s social media. He captured everyday occurrences including death. However, Bresson would have to wait weeks to see his results from the laboratory.  Why did photograph death? Because we are staring death in the face every day just as am I with my terminal condition and in my eyes mundane events become quite special, unique and there for a split second then gone.


‘L’amour de court’ (‘Just plain love’, 2001) (2001). ARTE France. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL707C8F898605E0BF (Accessed: 14 February 2017).